Southernmost Texas is the only place in the United States with a breeding population of endangered ocelots estimated to number less than 50 in the wild, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is tasked with saving the rare cats.
Mitch Sternberg, Lead Ocelot Biologist USFWS, said, Fish and Wildlife Service has the responsibility thru the Endangered Species Act to form some plans and teams for most endangered species. For the ocelot, we have the ocelot recovery team.
In addition to preserving critical habitat and working with the Texas Department of Transportation to build ocelot-crossing sites beneath highways, the ocelot recovery team is also concerned with declining genetic diversity of the isolated South Texas population.
Sternberg said, Our plans are to try and reinvigorate the genetics of Texas ocelots by trying to make some connections with some ocelots in Mexico.
There are two small populations of ocelots on private lands in deep South Texas and an estimated 14 cats on Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Normally, you would have maybe one male to three females, and at Laguna Atascosa, at least for example, that ratio is backwards where we have two or three males to females|so one of the things the implementation group is working on is actually seeking translocation from a healthy and robust population in Mexico, said Sternberg
Historically, before extensive clearing for agriculture and urbanization, ocelots living in Texas and Mexico were linked by shared habitat.
Fortunately, there are still thriving populations of ocelots on private lands south of the border, and biologists are optimistic about bringing the first cats to Texas in a year or two.
The future of translocation with Mexico is a good one, because there are so many people interested and invested and passionate about doing it.